Video games are not art.

2 05 2012

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

I ran across this article, bulleting out some extrapolations (with a little and – at times – a lot of conjecture) from an article by Rodger Ebert. The first article is an easy read (quick) while the second one is a bit more dense (it’s Ebert) and has a very long load-time (long-ish post, 4k something comments on the same page, and a  half dozen embedded videos that all want to load previews).

Naturally this re-ignited my nerd-fury re: Mass Effect. No, I’m not over it and, no, I don’t foresee this summer’s free DLC really mitigating that. The real reason is that they made the very mistake that these two articles put forward: they tried to go art when they should’ve stuck with game. They’re going to stick to their guns, as I understand it: fleshing out their ending as opposed to giving us more options to – you know – avoid the required death of  galactic civilization, the probable death of the Shepard, and the awkward plot hole where members of my squad – who were on ground zero fighting for Earth – were magically jumping between Mass Relays for no discernable reason whatsoever.

I guess that’s what happens when resources are reallocated to an MMO which – by the way – is still a good time and has more than the lion’s share of both tragic, bitter ends and super-happy cheesy fanfares.

No Scooby Doo Ending? No Mega Happy Ending? For shame.

Let me be clear.

Games can use Art as a mechanic. Art can use Games as a mechanic. They are still separate entities.

Mass Effect’s core game play mechanic was choice. You made a decision. Things happen as a result and your decision obviously matters, in a big way. Talk Rex down or kill him. Ashley or whoever that guy was. The Quarians or the Geth. You choose, something happens. It can be catastrophic, but that’s okay…because you chose it. The game teaches you that you have a choice.

Yet at that very moment when they should have leveraged their core mechanic in the biggest way possible, they let it fall on it’s face. Grab the beamz, jump in the beamz, shoot the thingz, Shepard’s dead (or mostly dead), galactic civ in ruins, major plot-hole, it was all a story. Epic, epic fail. The only real visible differences?

  • Whether Shepard dives, grabs, or shoots.
  • What the color of the light show is.
I would have had zero complaints if the three endings were all catastrophically different. It’d be okay if Shepard died in most or even all of them, provided they were extremely different. The worst part is you had a good foundation to make them different (the three choices are described as if they are) but…yea, I could go on all day.

Bioware, make no mistake. This is your greatest oversight. I’m sure you’ll learn from it and future games will be great. And I really did enjoy Mass Effect as a whole. But, man. You really let me down.

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3 responses

2 05 2012
Grimnir (@grimnir_)

Quite possibly the greatest trolling from a game developer that the world has ever seen. I bought ME1 and ME2 on launch day, loved them like crazy. I was waiting on ME3 to get off the Origin fail train, but now… well, I’m not as disappointed as people that shelled out 60$, but it’s still there. I was still bitter about Dragon Age 2, and that feeling isn’t getting any better.

2 05 2012
thade

You know, I heard such bad things about DA2 that I didn’t buy a license for it. Had I not picked up ME3 when it launched, I wonder if I’d have confronted the same thing.

21 05 2012
Games as Art [Game Theory] | Diminishing Returns

[…] up on my Reader list, I came across an article by respected film critic Roger Ebert from 2010, via Thade. In it Ebert dismisses the idea that video games can be considered Art, or that they ever will ever […]

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